YALTA – With the nuclear stand-off with Iran and Syrian chemical weapons still threatening the strife-torn Middle East, Israeli President Shimon Peres said he did not foresee a war between states erupting in the region any time soon.
Though he was speaking generally, and did not specifically mention either Israel or the United States, both of which have conducted military strikes against states seeking WMD and have threatened to carry out more strikes against Iran, Syria or others suspected of seeking unconventional weapons, Mr. Peres asserted that military action was both increasingly costly and unlikely to resolve the challenges posed by terrorists or aggressive, authoritarian states.
“I don’t foresee a war. It’s too expensive,” he said, referring to the cost not only in dollars but in human lives.
President Peres, who turned 90 this year, made his remarks at the 10th annual “Yalta European Strategy” conference in the Ukraine, known as “YES,” a political star-studded, two-day event sponsored by Victor Pinchuk, one of the Ukraine’s wealthiest businessmen and philanthropists.
The two day meeting of more than 200 officials, former leaders, academics and analysts was held in Yalta this weekend as foreign officials and diplomats headed to New York for the annual meeting of the United Nations General Assembly.
Diplomats said that Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu intended to warn the U.S. against signing accord with Teheran that would permit Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon, or improve its atomic weapons infrastructure, as North Korea did in 2005.
Mr. Peres, approaching the end of his eventful life and waxing philosophically about the profound changes he has witnessed, said that war’s soaring costs and decreasing payoff made it less attractive to state leaders, and hence less likely.
“There will not be another war,” he said, “because what can you win? Why spend hundreds of millions of dollars and cause thousands of deaths? For what?” Land, or “real estate,” as he called it, was becoming less important than science and “wisdom” in the competition among nations.
The cost of such confrontations was escalating exponentially, with a single fighter jet, for instance, costing hundreds of millions of dollars, placing unsustainable burdens on national budgets.
“I don’t foresee a war,” he said more than once. “It’s too expensive.”
Nor did he see the use of a nuclear or other WMD between states, he added. After the bombing of Hiroshima, he said, a consensus had developed that nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons were too powerful to use. This explained why “we were so shocked” when the Syrians used chemical weapons and violated a ban that has become what he called “an accepted norm.”
He also questioned Iran’s assertion that its ambitious nuclear program was for purely peaceful purposes and that its state religion, Islam, forbade the development of nuclear weapons. If that were so, he said, “why build 6,000-kilometer, long-range missiles” capable of delivering them? He urged nations to monitor Iran’s atomic efforts carefully.
The Iranians, he said, excelled at both making carpets, which requires attention to minute detail, and playing chess, which demands a firm grasp of strategy. But he declined to say the course he favored to persuade Teheran to comply with requirements of international inspectors and allay American and Western concerns about its nuclear intentions.
Exploring other developments in his troubled region, he said he doubted that the upheavals which swept through the Arab Middle East two years ago had met the expectations of the Arab youth who helped foment them. “There is no Arab Spring,” he said.
Egypt, the first Arab state to make peace with Israel over 30 years ago, faced particular national peril, he argued. The army had ousted Egypt’s elected Muslim Brotherhood government and its party’s president Mohammed Morsi, he said, because Egypt, whose land had never been divided, faced for the first time in its long history the potential loss of its Sinai Peninsula to terror.
“The army took over because Morsi would not defend the integrity of the land,” Peres said. Moreover, the Muslim Brotherhood, which had been a powerful party in opposition, “had no plan to provide food, jobs, and hope” after it narrowly won a heavily contested free election two years ago.
In the Midde East, young Arabs face world-wide competition for increasingly scarce jobs, so throughout the world, “young people are in revolt.”
Fueled by a powerful mix of testosterone and technology, the Arab Spring protests were aimed at creating jobs, hope, and political space. Some 99 million of the Middle East’s 350 million Arabs were on line at their start, he said, a number that would grow to 200 million in the next few years, he added. More than 60 percent of the region’s inhabitants who are under 26 years old. “It may take them time to get organized, but the future is theirs.”
The winners in an increasingly globalized world would not be those with the most land, said the president whose own land mass is among the smallest in the region, but the most creative, the best educated, and technologically productive.
While terrorism remained a threat to the region’s stability and prosperity, he said, “I can see the beginnings of a revolt against the terror” that has endangered the leadership and integrity of most Arab states, he said.
Mr. Peres, who often prides himself on his knowledge of and devotion to history, said that given the technological and scientific changes transforming the world, spending a lot of time teaching history was a “waste of time.”
“The future will not be a repetition of the past,” he said. So “throw away Clausewitz.” War, he added, referring to a maxim of Carl von Clausewitz, a father of modern military strategy, was no longer “an extension of politics by other means.”
Judith Miller, a Fox News contributor, is an award-winning author, and an adjunct fellow at the Manhattan Institute. Her latest book, "The Story: A Reporter's Journey" (Simon & Schuster, April 7, 2015).